Content warning: contains Star Wars and gamer geekery
After months of speculation and waiting, the third wave of expansions for Fantasy Flight Games' Star Wars Armada game has finally been announced and it's... well, it hasn't exactly set blasters to stun. After the second wave gave us the iconic Imperial Star Destroyer and rebel flagship Home One, this wave has given us flotillas - groups of small support ships.
The internet being the internet, this has not gone down well in all quarters, with several people declaring the game to be "dead" at this point due to the lack of exciting new ships. I think that even the most excited fan would have to admit that this announcement was a little underwhelming, but I think there are several reasons to be broadly content with these.
Wave 2 spoiled us
Wave 2 was huge, both in terms of size and scope. At this point, pretty much every ship that was in the original Star Wars trilogy is now in Armada (with two notable exceptions). We have 10 different ships to play with, and that's before you get started on the various squadrons available. If there was a problem with Wave 2, it was that it was arguably too big. Logistically, it must have been a nightmare - which presumably explains the big delays. And having so much in such a big chunk is a little hard to take in. If Wave 2 had been split into two, or even three, we'd have probably got our hands on our toys a lot sooner and been able to give each expansion the attention it deserved. And of course, it was a big chunk of cash to part with in one go - certainly not a problem we'll face with Wave 3 (although even then, buying one of each is likely to cost as much as most board games).
More ships does not necessarily mean more variety
Sure, FFG could adopt the approach of a certain other game publisher and keep pumping out an endless stream of new ships for Armada, but there's a bit of a problem. On the Imperial side of things, most in-universe ships are little more than variations on the Star Destroyer design. In Armada, we already have four of these (only one of which appeared in the films) and while the Imperial Star Destroyer, the Gladiator and the Raider all do different things, the Victory-class ship is already struggling with being neither one or the other. The Rebel Alliance has even fewer options out there. I don't think bringing out more variations of that theme will especially help matters, even if a little more visual diversity might be nice. With X-Wing, this has been relatively easier, as the smaller scale ships in that game tend to have different tasks: some ships are interceptors, some are bombers, some provide support. But Armada is a game of throwing what are basically large moving cities in space at each other; the bigger scale means that everything gets averaged out. The game is not going to be well served by just more of the same. There's only one ship I can think of that they could develop which has its own distinct flavour: the Interdictor Cruiser. There's a problem with introducing this ship however: it's main ability is stopping ships from going into hyperspace. That's a powerful ability, but not one which really figures much in Armada. To do the Interdictor justice and have it appear in the game, it will mean taking the game into a radically different direction, and that isn't extremely wise to do in the game's second year.
It's a big game - in every way
Although the rules are simple enough, Armada is a deep and strategic game with lots of moving parts, and that's both a strength and a weakness. I don't feel I've even scratched the surface of it yet after playing for nearly a year - I certainly can't win it! Leaving to one side the game play itself, there are a large number of factors to consider when building your fleet, balancing ships, upgrades, squadrons and mission cards to come up with a winning combination. With all collectable games, adding more stuff increases the range of options exponentially. Building a winning Armada fleet feels more like building a deck in something like Netrunner than piecing together a squadron in X-Wing and as the game itself is much less random you can't just rely on a bit of luck to push you through. So a small expansion right now is actually quite a nice thing for the more casual player still trying to get to grips with the game as it is.
You can't judge an expansion by its size
For me, the most interesting expansion to come out in Wave 2 was the Rogues and Villains pack, bringing ships such as the Millennium Falcon and Slave One into the game. I think squadrons remain a highly under-appreciated - not to mention fun and thematic - aspect of the game, and Rogues and Villains gives you a lot of interesting things you could do with them. The new flotillas occupy a similar space for me - a nice chunk of theme and some interesting options that are about more than how much damage you can do to your opponent with a single dice roll. The biggest problem with big expansions is that they're ultimately zero sum: you can't include another huge points-hog into your fleet without having to remove another one. That's why you see the Victory-class so under-utilised; why include it when you have so many better options? Small expansions by contrast give you a lot more options. Ultimately I expect to see a lot more list diversity as a result of these two new expansions than we currently see, and that can only be helpful for the game.
The implications are huge
The new expansions remain largely unspoiled. One thing, however, which I think has gone largely uncommented upon is that each flotilla is going to come with four fleet support icons and four other icons. That's a huge amount of potential variety and new strategies. We don't have their points cost yet, but we can assume that the flotillas will be relatively cheap. If nothing else, they will function as a ship you can use to ensure you don't have to activate your heavy hitter too early, or use to activate your squadrons with. We've already seen three very different fleet support upgrade cards and no doubt there are more to come. I suspect these expansions will dramatically change the way Armada is played in new and exciting ways.
Oh, and this might not be it
It has already been noted that there is a two number gap in Armada's product codes. The Imperial Assault Carriers and Rebel Transports are SWM18 and SWM19 respectively, but we have no idea what SWM16 and 17. Last time FFG left a gap in their product codes like this, it was for a very good reason: they were keeping the new Force Awakens ships for X-Wing under wraps. With the new Star Wars film Rogue One set to come out this year, it seems at the very least plausible that FFG have got a couple of Armada expansions ready which Lucasfilm are insisting they keep a secret until closer to that film's December release date.
Wave 3 might look small and underwhelming, but it has the hallmarks of an interesting couple of expansions that will add a lot of dynamic and interesting options to your Armada fleet. Hopefully, its petite size means that it will be available sooner rather than later in the third quarter of 2016 and we can probably expect at least a couple of Rogue One-related releases to be announced this year as well. Far from this looking like a new game "dying" this looks more like the publishers being careful to not expand the game too fast, too soon.
Oh, and for the record, these are the ships I'm really hoping we'll see come out for Armada:
This ship is confusingly named (the Home One is also an MC80). It's the only significant Rebel Alliance ship which appears in the orignal trilogy, Return of the Jedi to be precise, that hasn't been released for Armada yet. Despite the similar name, it looks significantly different to the Home One, with its more triangular appearance. I would imagine that this ship would be faster, with more powerful engines, and with a more rounded distribution of attack dice across its front and potentially rear arcs (instead of the Home One focus on side arcs).
I'm a bit of a stickler for the ships which appeared in the films, have a soft spot for the Clone Wars and have an interest in the period between episodes 3 and 4 as the Republic turned into the Empire. All of which make this Clone Wars-era ship a must. I think this ship would lack a lot of punch and be quite slow, but would have a fair number of hit points and a good number of squadron points. Size-wise, it would be somewhere between a VSD and an ISD, but would probably be closer to the VSD in terms of points and would function more as a support ship. (On a related note, I'd also like to see the much smaller Arquitens-class make an appearance, but it's less clear what role it would play mechanically)
More squadrons and ace pilots
As I said above, squadrons are one of my favourite aspects of the game, so its no surprise I'd like to see more of them. There are plenty more types of starfighter to choose from - TIE Phantoms in particular would be fun, with their stealth devices - and it would be nice to see bigger ships such as the Ghost and Decimator pop up. But there's also a lot of scope for more ace pilots for established ships. I wouldn't go as far as X-wing in this regard - they aren't a central enough part of the game - but a couple more ace pilots for each ship would add a nice bit of variety.
The toughest thing about designing Star Wars miniatures games is dealing with scale. And while I think that on balance they made the right call in terms of sizing things in Armada, it does make it hard to see how they can include the hugest ship to appear in the Star Wars films, the Executor. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't try! The Executor is nearly 12 times the length of an Imperial Star Destroyer, and for it to be imposing enough on the table it would need to be at least twice the length of the ISD model, and taller. We're probably looking at a model that will cost £100 here. It might make more sense to make the Executor a big piece of card board, but it would be disappointing if that was the case. Mechanically, it is hard to see how it could work in a standard 400 point game, but just as X-Wing has multiple modes of play, I'm sure Armada could handle it as well. What we're talking about here is a ship that will be slow, but with lots of attack dice and high squadron and engineering ratings. It's cost might be offset by a rule that if the Rebel player manages to blow it up, they automatically win the game - adding an extra layer of asymmetry. While X-Wing is best in my opinion in its pure, 100-point dogfight form, Armada scales quite well. We might never see the Executor make an appearance at tournaments, but it is a crucial lump of plastic for that ultimate Star Wars space battle experience.
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